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Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

Posted December 15, 2016 12:00 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: audio compression

John Philip Sousa—composer of the well-known “Stars and Stripes Forever” march and namesake of the sousaphone—famously hated recorded sound. He almost always refused to conduct his band when recording equipment was present, and in 1906 he said this during a congressional hearing: “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left...”

Today, as Sousa predicted, recorded sound has rendered most forms of live music-making irrelevant, or at least not strictly necessary. And while digital music is worlds away from the wax cylinders he griped about, its sound is still very different from live performances.

An open-source article published this month in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society attempted to examine the relationship between audio compression and emotions. A group of four researchers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology played a group of subjects audio samples of eight different orchestral instruments using three varying degrees of audio compression. Subjects voted samples into ten emotional categories, from happy and heroic to scary and angry. The study found that reducing a sample from 112 Kbps to 32 Kbps resulted in a reduction in “positive” emotions and an increase in negative ones. It also found that the trumpet samples were affected most, while the horn was least affected by far, probably because of the difference in overtones between the two instruments.

Several audiophile blogs and websites have already picked up on the study, claiming that it corroborates their belief that vinyl’s still the ideal listening format. The research is problematic in a few ways, however. The group postulated that 32 Kbps audio compression adds a background “growl” that caused respondents to negatively reclassify their samples. As demonstrated in the video below, the difference between 112 Kbps and 32 Kbps bit rates is monumental, and I’d call the “growl” they're referring to straight-up distortion. The bit rates chosen by the team are surprisingly low in 2016 terms, and even the 10-year-old inexpensive digital recorder I use at home records at 320 Kbps. Also, studies examining emotional responses are often highly subjective to each participant. To be fair, the researchers consistently describe the study as an introductory one that could lead to further, more substantial investigation.

Lossy audio compression—the technology that makes it possible for hundreds or thousands of songs to fit onto a matchbook-sized MP3 player—has changed the sound of recorded music dramatically. Tech-savvy listeners who are more concerned with sound quality can use lossless codecs to convert their music, but these tracks are likely to be up to five times larger than ones that used lossy compression. I find it astounding that, only 110 years after Sousa’s comments, one can access millions of hours of free, high-quality music on YouTube at any time of day in any part of the world (with Wi-Fi). But I’d be interested to see more studies on the relationship between compressed music and user emotion; it would likely prove that there’s still no convenient substitute for hearing it live.

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#1

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/15/2016 2:36 PM

Most music files are compressed using the mp3 (Moving Pictures Expert Group, Layer 3 encoding) algorithm. Using the science of psychoacoustics that describes how sounds are perceived in the brain, this algorithm removes the sounds that can hardly be heard and then compresses the remaining information.

For anyone interested in the "nuts and bolts" of how it's done, this document details everything you ever wanted to know (and then some) about mp3 encoding and decoding.

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#2
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/15/2016 4:00 PM

I've studied the mp3 algorithm, but I don't see where happiness is getting filtered out...

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#3
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 9:46 AM

For some music the stuff that you do not hear is what makes you happy. (I mean if you do not have to hear it). Therefore it has to be conceived that digital music might make you unhappy.

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#4

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 12:13 PM

What really makes me sad is what is being passed off as music for the last couple of decades or so. At least with disco, they attempted to use real instruments from time-to-time.

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#5
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 12:46 PM

I never really cared too much for Disco.

It wouldn't even get me out on the floor.

It just didn't seem to have enough soul.

Just give me that old time rock-n-roll...

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#6
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 1:14 PM

It's all in the ear of the individual.

Odds are your 'good music' ain't my 'good music'.

Over on a antiques farm equipment forum I frequent a lot of guys post links to their favorite music and I have to say I have yet to find what it is that makes it 'good music' in their ears.

In mine if I had to listen that driveling whiny country crap all day I would either be on a killing rampage due to the overall idiocy of the their subject matter or have a gun in my mouth with tears rolling down my face from irreconcilable suicidal depression.

That's what I get out of it. Fools proudly singing about how stupid they are and never learn of whining about past relationships they ruined because of their life long problems with the first issue. Not good music to me.

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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 2:05 PM

My preferences run all over the gamut (except two exceptions). I'd wager to say we'd probably find a fair amount of common ground. I'm not a huge fan of country and western, but there are a lot of gems in that genre too, nasally cry in your beer songs not withstanding.

I can go from classical to AC/DC. While most of my listening could be characterized as classic rock and easy listening rock, I appreciate the music from many genres.

One of the two genres of music that doesn't appeal to any of my tastes is that chick dance music that is on hit radio these days. In my opinion, the music has no imagination, no instruments that actually get played, and the lyrics are totally vacuous.

The other genre of music that holds zero appeal to me is hip-hop/rap music. I find that genre to be grating on the psyche and the premise of much of the content to be downright disturbing. While I understand there are performers in this genre who believe they are making some sort of statement, I find very little redeeming value in it. But as I will always say, to each their own, and I'm glad we ALL have choices we can make.

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#8
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 3:54 PM

Your description of hip hop and rap is basically how I describe country music! As tortured as my soul is it still ain't bad enough off to find that stuff soothing. Either that or it because my IQ is no the upper side of the three digit line and not the lower side.

Most everything else I can listen to and yea we would get along just fine. I have about 10 country-ish songs I don't mind and my choices of hip hop and rap tend to be more eclectic and weird than mainstream in your face stuff.

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#12
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 9:17 PM

The music you like is what is popular when you are a teenager. It works the same as a duckling thinking the first thing it sees is its mother!

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#20
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 11:47 AM

Didn't work with disco. I was teen then . . .

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#13
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 10:56 PM

What???

Don't you know what to do with country music? Play it backwards! That way you get back your truck, your farm, your dog, and- gulp- your wife (here I was going to say it's like winning the lottery)!

p.s. Actually, I quite appreciate my wife. But I have to say, that does seem a good description of a lot of it.

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#14
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/17/2016 1:24 AM

We used to joke that Country Western music was "woe woe baby can't get your car started".

I used to be 100% fan of "candy classical" but have developed a liking for Ballroom Dance music - ever since I started standard ballroom dancing - should have started about 30 years younger!

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#10
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 8:34 PM

Agreed. Maybe they have been compressing it and not telling us...

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#9

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 8:20 PM

I have a pair of Bose bookshelf speakers that have the uncanny ability to make old music sound good. The older the better. They'll be playing old recordings on the radio and they'll sound great. CDs however, sound flat and sterile on them.

My rebuilt antique AR speakers make everything sound good. It's like they knew what sounded good a couple of generations ago and things haven't really gotten that much better since.

My Bose receiver that I found at a thrift shop has more balls than a 10wpc amp should have. With the way it's equalized and it's superior signal to noise ratio I'm rediscovering music I thought I knew by heart.

And then I scored an old Sherwood tube amp and it makes everything sound so smooth you can't stop listening to it.

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#11

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/16/2016 8:38 PM

One time I was supposed to supply music for this party and they wanted Mexican music. At the last minute my state of the art turntable crapped out. In desperation I grabbed this Fisher-Price toy record player and took it to the party. The tinny sound gave it the atmosphere of a Mexican cantina.

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#15

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/17/2016 9:37 AM

At 63 years of age, I've finally come to realize the joy and excitement of live music over recorded music. I love sitting close to the performers, if it's not too loud, and being able to see them actually play their instruments and sing. It's amazing how well choreographed most of the older groups are, like they've been doing it their entire life (ha!).

A friend of mine is David Coverdale's (Whitesnake, Deep Purple) brother-in-law. When they performed here, we had the privilege of having dinner with them before the show. We were going to sit with David's wife and I asked her if it would be considered rude to wear earplugs. "Oh, no, not at all! They wear them onstage," was her reply. During the show she was able to answer questions about why they did this and that, why stuff was set up a certain way, etc. Even though Whitesnake wasn't one of my favorite acts, getting to visit with them and getting an inside view gave me a whole new appreciation for what they do. I enjoy listening to them on CD now, it helps me relive the live performance. We had a wonderful time! And, being a performer on tour IS WORK! It's not easy, nor something I would want to do.

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#16

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/17/2016 9:59 PM

So much for opinions that have nothing to do with the original post, I think it's obvious that compressing music to suit the different delivery format does affect the quality of the acoustic reproduction. Just like a cheap 3" speaker can't reproduce much in the way of quality sound.

There is nothing like the music produced by a live orchestra or a country western band or any music, performed before a live audience.

Even I, with compromised hearing, would be able tell the difference between a live performance and an MP3 recording.

But, I'm happy listening to whatever I choose to listen to, when I choose to listen to it, realizing that the quality of the reproduced sound may not be as good as the original.

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#17
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/18/2016 5:07 AM

I have to agree, too many times sitting in a gun turret as turret maintainer, while 4.5" rounds at 2 a second are being shot off, don't do good things for your ears!! 10 years in the RN has left its mark! I guess I am lucky that both ears work "reasonably" for my age!!

I accept that "technically" speaking, compressed music is missing some parts. Though I do find certain original concert hall CDs (cda standard)that seem to sound really good (to me at least!!).

So I do't compress them any further. I copy the original as an "original" copy for use in the car, as they could get stolen and the temperatures and light in a car are not conducive to a long life of any optical disks anyway.The original is kept at home, in its box, in the dark!!

My wife gets scratches on the car ones anyway.....

I have to admit to having quite a reasonable car loudspeaker system, that can reproduce music for a car environment quite well I believe...

But I really don't see that as a problem either way, compressed further or not with most music around, as how would I fit an orchestra in my car, with all my luggage, wife and dog as well anyway?

Even a pop group would still take up too much room, or should I buy a panel truck?

Then there are the other extra costs involved.....what does a top pop group take per hour???

I agree entirely that "live" music is best, but hearing it in anywhere but as you say, a concert hall or similar, is probably no worse that some compression algorithms are!

I have to admit that I am not a purist when it comes to music, just hearing it is great, as I am a fan of basically all music, except some rap!! (most rap!!)

I have after almost 35 years together, even managed to get my wife to listen to good classical music, which in itself is quite an achievement! Before she was a true believer that ABBA was classical!!

Now to get to the point here with regard to sound and compression/changes to music sources I want to make, I recently found out that all films on DVD and BluRay made in countries where the TV frequency is 60Hz/30Hz picture rate (a hangover from early TVs that used the mains frequency as basic timing), are all played back at the wrong speed in countries where the TV frequency is 50Hz?

At first I thought it was someone playing a joke on me! In this day and age????

But its not a joke, its true.....all tones (and of course the actual "film speed", are played back at a higher frequency here....but it is not just a simple 50/60 Hz problem, its because films and DVDs are made at 24Hz picture rate, which is not directly correlated with either the 25 Hz (here) or the 30Hz picture rates in say the USA, both being half the local mains frequency!

Luckily for me, having all TVs made far west of San Francisco, I could theoretically play the disks in 60HZ region 1 (if I could be bothered!) as all our TVs can play back either. In fact all our TVs over the last 25 years at least could do that, as I don't favour non far eastern models....

The difference is speed and tone is a speed increase of 4.2% over region 1, which is also not fully "picture" correct either, though the tone should be!!!

For any of you who don't believe me, look here:-

PAL TV Speedup

Click on the "the Direct Comparison", where it will take you here:-

Speed Difference Comparison

I have to admit to not noticing the difference before, so I am showing that I do not have "perfect pitch" (you should hear me singing!!). And even the region 1 picture frequency is almost a "DIY" fix-up as well, so who cares?

I also will probably not be installing the Redfox software to play back DVDs/BDs slower here, as the 5 minutes saved on playing back a 2 hour film are MORE attractive!!!

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#18

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/18/2016 7:12 AM

Personally I don't care for live music. It's not how I came to know and hear the songs plus I really hate live concerts in general.

Stop talking and play the music like you wrote and play it on your recordings or get off the stage sums up too many of my live performance experiences.

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#19

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 6:18 AM

There is always vinyl, which suffers from none of the digitization or compression effects of modern-day music "systems.

It is interesting to note that the Beatles and Rolling Stones initially insisted that their recordings be done in "mono"--and reluctantly agreed to have their productions produced in stereo...

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#21
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 12:09 PM

Sorry to have to tell you this, but vinyl is also compressed/expanded to sound better and to play longer. Its called the RIAA Equalisation....

See here:-

RIAA Equalization

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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 1:28 PM

You are correct. However the signal stream is analog. That makes a real difference.

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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 1:54 PM

But it is still adjusting the sound electronically, digital was not that "strong" when RIAA was first used....

Valves (tubes) make generally a different sound to transistors/chips....many would say an even greater difference than that of analog to digital changes.......

I was surprised you did not mention it!

Do you have a modern chip/transistor amp, or a valve (tube) job?

Mine is a Denon surround sound receiver 5.1. All transistor/chips as far as I am aware. Its getting on in years, but I still love the sound it makes from both Vinyl and any digital sources......

I have made recordings from my vinyl onto CDs, then played them back to an audience, and switched between the sources, without them seeing which source was in use.....

The result was that nobody could reliably guess whether the source was the CD or the vinyl......you should try that yourself, you are in for a shock I would guess....

The audience was composed of a few people from both sides of the digital/Analog fence! At least my test results made them all laugh and chat about it, but none were professional music critics, just musically inclined neighbours with an opinion!

It was a great evening, my birthday some years ago!! The wives said we were all crazy!!!

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#25
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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 3:14 PM

I am dating myself, have grown up with tubes, have hand-built a number of Class A and Class Ab1 (Williamson design) "push-pull" amplifiers with great success.

You are absolutely correct about the tonal differences between tube and solid-state amplifiers.

I have a nice 1970s Marantz system (discrete pre-amp and separate amplifier) system with original Advent speakers that does quite nicely.

As to the RIAA system, the equalization was necessary because of the limitations of cartridges and amplification technology of the time...

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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 4:06 PM

You said "As to the RIAA system, the equalization was necessary because of the limitations of cartridges and amplification technology of the time..."

Which according to Wiki, is not fully true. I quote from the article I posted and these were the main reasons:-

RIAA equalization.... The purposes of the equalization are to permit greater recording times (by decreasing the mean width of each groove), to improve sound quality, and to reduce the groove damage that would otherwise arise during playback.

As far as I am aware, that is all true....

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Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/19/2016 12:17 PM

Brian Wilson did the same thing on Pet Sounds. I think his reasoning was that he felt he had more aural control over the mono mix, and because he was deaf in one of his ears. I have the reissue CD with both mixes for every song--the difference is interesting. I actually prefer mono for its cohesive sound on certain tracks.

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#27

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

12/21/2016 3:51 PM

If you don't mind my grumbling a bit, I find that the only thing worse than recorded music is recorded live music, i.e. recordings of live concerts.

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#28

Re: Is Digital Music Making You Sad?

01/05/2017 9:01 AM

"Today, as Sousa predicted, recorded sound has rendered most forms of live music-making irrelevant, or at least not strictly necessary."

Irrelevant? The high ticket prices for live concerts prove this statement false.

"And while digital music is worlds away from the wax cylinders he griped about, its sound is still very different from live performances."

And in the OP's very next sentence, he contradicts his previous claim of irrelevance by pointing out that there is still a difference between recorded music and live.

(I'll look at things in more detail later, Lots to do this morning.)

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